At first, it all went according to plan. The house lights went down at exactly 7 PM. The arena lit up in a sea of orange and white lights glimmering off commemorative wristbands. A tribute to the recently deceased Ed Snider, who founded the Flyers in 1967 and had owned the team ever since, played on the big screen. All of Wells Fargo Center, from the seating bowl to the benches to the press box, applauded a great owner. Then Kate Smith and Lauren Hart sang their trademark “God Bless America” duet. Within a minute of puck drop, the Flyers had the first goal, wildly sliding into the boards in celebration. The roar from the fans was booming. This was their night for their owner.
“Ed was a dynamic visionary who turned Philadelphia into one of the great hockey towns in the world,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said before the game in a heartfelt press conference. “He believed in excellence — and in this team, the Flyers.”
But in the end, that team let him down.
After Philly scored the opening goal, the Capitals came back to take a 2-1 lead. Heading into the third period, the Flyers were down by only one goal. But just over 12 minutes into the period, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare boarded Dmitry Orlov. Bellemare was awarded a five-minute major for hitting from behind and kicked out of the game.
The Flyers turned a dirty hit into a line brawl. Misconducts were doled out to the Flyers like candy. The wristbands, part of a tribute to a deceased and beloved owner, were heaved in disgust onto the ice.
“Have some class,” longtime public address announcer Lou Nolan admonished the crowd.
Then Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play. More wristbands came tumbling down as the seating bowl emptied of drunk and angry fans. Like a kindergarten teacher warning unruly kids, Nolan told the fans to stop. If they didn’t, the Flyers would be going back on the penalty kill. They didn’t listen.
“Way to go!” Nolan said sarcastically after the Flyers received a bench minor for delay of game.
When it was all over, the Capitals had five power play goals, a franchise playoff record. The Flyers finished with 53 penalty minutes. Just 37 minutes and 42 seconds of the game were played at even-strength.
“They weren’t interested in playing anymore,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “So we were on the power play for the last seven or eight minutes. I just thought it wasn’t very good for our game. It’s that simple. We were on national television. It didn’t display our game very well.”
As reporters entered the Flyers locker room after the game, the players gathered their things, exchanged a few dazed looks, and left in silence. A few minutes later, Brayden Schenn wandered in to answer questions for a minute. It took 10 minutes before anyone else came before reporters. It was Wayne Simmonds, who took his time answering painful questions about his team’s performance.
“It completely sucks,” Simmonds said. “There’s nothing we can do about that now.”
After five minutes of back and forth, the final question was about what Snider would have thought of the chaos.
“I’m pretty sure he’s not too happy with that,” Simmonds said, still using the present tense. “The whole fan situation there, they’re understandably upset, but that can’t happen.”
For a brief moment in Game Three, the Capitals looked like they were headed for defeat. Now, after one of the most embarrassing moments in Philadelphia’s checkered sports history, the Capitals lead the series three games to none, the first time that’s happened in franchise history. The Capitals won the game 6-1, their largest margin of victory in the postseason since 1992. The final tally was scored by Jay Beagle. It was his first career NHL power play goal.
“It was a good start and obviously not a great finish,” said Schenn.
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